Meeting of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

You’ve probably heard of people collecting stamps or comic books, but you may not know that antique bottles are one of the hottest markets out there.

In Maine and beyond, antique bottle collecting is a hobby with passionate participants — and, sometimes, big money to be made. One club of collectors is looking to bring back the spirit of community that made the hobby so popular in the first place, and hopefully attract a new generation of collectors in the process.

Meeting of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

Paul McClure, president of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club, said that Maine is a good place to collect bottles. As part of New England, the state holds some of the earliest history of the country within its borders. Plus, much of Maine is rural, which means many old dump sites that have been left undisturbed for years.

Many Maine collectors will literally stumble upon the hobby as a result.

Meeting of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

“People walking around in the woods stumble on these dumps and start scraping the bottles out, bring them home and start getting intrigued by how unusual they look,” McClure said. “If you discover it and you start researching stuff next thing you know you’re drawn into it by the mystery of what you found.”

McClure has been collecting antique bottles since he was a kid in the 1980s growing up in the Camden-Rockport area exploring the woods with his brother. After coming across a bottle dump, he bought a book to identify his finds and ended up locating the contact information for the New England Antique Bottle Club, which met down in Kennebunk.

Meeting of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

“The club was very active. They were doing shows every year and they had monthly meetings and I went to them pretty regularly,” McClure said. “Then that club started to wind down because most of the members were quite old.”

McClure started the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club about seven years ago. The club is exclusive, with only 30 members ranging from ages in their 30s to their 80s that are voted in by other club members, but they are active, consistent and involved.

Antique bottle collecting started around the end of World War II and really gained steam in the 1960s, McClure said. It started to wane in popularity as the original generation of collectors began aging out, but with the advent of the Internet and online auctions, suddenly antique bottles were back on people’s minds.

Meeting of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

Social media has played a big role in the hobby’s resurgence, too, according to Justin Petelle, a member of the Mid-Maine Antique Bottle Club.

“People are going on these pages and they’re seeing different bottles and getting interested,” said Petelle, who is among a handful of scuba divers that will brave the cold lakes and rivers of Maine in order to search for antique bottles.

“As much as I hate social media, it really helps. There’s many, many different sites depending on what category of bottle you want to collect.”

An antique bottle dump. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

This Sunday, the club will be hosting its first show, where it expects over 60 vendors of antique bottles, the majority of which will be collectors from Maine.

“I missed having a show in Maine,” McClure said. “The shows were always part of the hobby. Part of the reason I wanted to form the club was to eventually create a show in Maine for Maine collectors to be able to get to easily.”

There are sure to be rare discoveries there. At bottle auctions, McClure said he has seen particularly old, historically significant and good condition bottles sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, even up to a million dollars. At shows you are bound to see bottles for at least a couple thousand dollars.

An antique bottle dump. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

The great thing about bottle collecting is that you can get started paying very little for something special. Petelle said that he will have bottles there ranging from $2 to a few hundred dollars.

“There are literally millions of bottles that are in a very normal price range for people,” McClure said. “You could pay as little as $30 or $40 and get a really, really nice looking bottle in a beautiful color with a beautiful shape to it.”

McClure hopes the event will attract newcomers to the hobby. He thinks shows are an essential element to understanding what the hobby of collecting is all about — actually getting to see and handle bottles that are decades or hundreds of years old.

“If you handle it you get a very good idea of what it’s about,” McClure said. “You won’t be fooled by a reproduction.”

Antique bottles. Credit: Courtesy of Paul McClure

As Petelle sees it, the antique bottle collecting community is growing in size — particularly after the pandemic, when more people had time to pursue unique hobbies — but he is also hoping to attract younger members. At 38, Petelle said that he is one of the youngest antique bottle collectors that he knows (though he does take his 14-year-old cousin bottle digging with him from time to time).

“We’re trying to get the younger generation into this,” Petelle said. “We’re trying to get the younger generation to collect, to have something they’re interested in other than, you know, video games. I think it always helps to see someone else’s enthusiasm to get into your own hobby.”